“Wait, you haven’t seen STAR WARS?”
These types of conversations suck. We’ve all heard a friend say something exactly like this, usually in the same kind intonation everyone tends to use: “You haven’t seen Goodfellas?” For whatever reason the first and last words are always sneered, as if their pop-cultural nose-turning momentarily becomes audible.
Since I started listening to The Canon last September, I’ve had to have this dumb conversation less and less frequently. Yes, I have seen “Aliens,” motherfucker. I have seen “The General.” Have you ever seen “Cannibal Holocaust,” guy in my film class who chain-smokes outside of North Quad? I didn’t think so.
The Canon is my favorite podcast, and I’ve listened to so many of them it takes dozens of swipes to reach the bottom of the podcast feed on my iPhone. If you’re close to me, you’ve likely had this show pitched to you at some point. The premise is simple: co-hosts Amy Nicholson (chief film critic of MTV News) and Devin Faraci (EIC of Birth.Movies.Death) discuss a different film each week, deciding whether or not the work belongs in The Canon of the great films to live on forever.
But the sheer quality of this podcast belies its simple format. The two hosts excel not only at helping us understand the merits (or lack thereof) of each film considered, but the different ways one can appreciate the movies and the impact they have on our society. Amy is the researcher — she’s typically the one to bring up the fascinating stories behind the film’s production, as well as the film’s cultural context. Devin, on the other hand, is all about textual analysis. He’s never as prepared with research, but he’s always ready to tear each film apart scene-by-scene, pointing out how various aesthetic and structural decisions by the director impact the film’s quality.
If this all sounds too deep-cut film nerd for you, don’t worry. One of my favorite things about The Canon is that Amy and Devin aren’t mousy-voiced NPR hosts that refuse to inject passion into their cultural commentary. Instead, they put their love/hate relationship in the spotlight. Amy and Devin’s on-mic rapport falls gracefully between a deep mutual respect among professionals and a schoolyard fist-fight. They are not afraid to give each other shit. They’re colorful and they’re great.
For this endeavor, I watched 107 different movies, about 64 of which I had never seen before. The choices for the films that Amy and Devin discuss are incredibly diverse, spanning nearly 100 years of film history. There’s also a great mix of populist classics and deeper cuts — we have the seminal acclaimed dramas like the “Godfather” trilogy, “The 400 Blows” and “Shawshank” (although Amy and Devin’s consensus on that one might surprise you), but you also have more obscure, but equally enlightening choices like Fellini’s “Nights of Cabiria,” Ari Folman’s “Waltz with Bashir” and Stuart Gordon’s “Re-Animator.”
If I had to make one complaint about the show, it would be that both hosts occasionally overcredit the director’s artistic agency. There’s a few noticeable times when “I love what x director does here with this shot/detail” is said that I personally disagreed with, thinking that whatever shot/detail under discussion may not have been a decision or implementation by the director at all.
But whatever. Disagreeing with the shades of Auteurist criticism that occasionally pop up is getting really pissy about a small aspect of the show. I promise you’ll learn so much from Amy and Devin. With films like “Blow Out” and “Saturday Night Fever,” you’ll learn that John Travolta really should have been one of America’s greatest leading men. By understanding the impact of classics like “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and “The Decline of Western Civilization” you’ll get real pissed that female directors still aren’t represented in contemporary film. There’s so much great culture to discover through The Canon — I have not even scratched the surface.
The Canon might be the best film education I’ve ever received, and I’ve been in film school for three years. As far as I’m concerned, you can take as many film history classes as you want, but there’s no substitute for simply sitting down and watching a movie, and then talking about it. Especially with folks that are as insightful and entertaining as Amy and Devin. No matter who you are when you start listening to The Canon, I truly believe it is impossible to come away from the show without becoming vastly interested in the movies.